::Literate Blather::
Friday, September 07, 2007
Fantastically Bad Cinema: "The Jewel of the Nile"
I had forgotten about the movie “Jewel of the Nile” (1985) until I attended a small performing arts theater tucked into the wilderness of the Lake Region of Maine. There – in a theater that looked more like a barn than a stage -- I caught the rather amusing one-man show of Avner Eisenberg.

He did physical comedy, mostly complicated pratfalls. While perusing his biography in the program, I found this nugget: Eisenberg appeared in “The Jewel of the Nile” as the jewel.

What? I thought, is it even possible that I never watched the sequel to “Romancing the Stone” (1984)? But I had no memory of the movie –none. So when I got home, I rented it.

And it all came back to me – like a horrible nightmare.

“The Jewel of the Nile” is proof that you can’t always return to the well. Because sometimes the well water turns into putrid sewage and if you drink it: you will die.

My first reaction was to track down Eisenberg and beat him with a rubber chicken.

“Jewel” is an epic disaster – a sequel so ill-thought out, poorly directed, horribly written, and featuring performances so lackluster one could argue that Michael Douglas wasn’t even aware that he was in the movie. And I had seen it before – but had purged the memory from my brain.

I actually turned it off, but the next night, I was drawn back to it like a moth to a candle. The movie was so damn bad that I couldn’t help myself. It’s unfortunate because “Romancing the Stone” was such an unexpected pleasure. It brought a refresh to the old-fashioned romantic adventure – with some laughs thrown in.

What made “Romancing the Stone” a hit was the chemistry between Kathleen Turner’s Joan Wilder and Douglas’s Jack Colton. She was the repressed writer and he was the wild, roguish adventurer. The way the two actors played off each other made for a funny, delightful escape.

However, the success led to the rushed making of the sequel the very next year.

And sometimes speed kills.

The biggest problem with “Jewel” is the writing. The script is so improbable that it borders on the ridiculous. We’re supposed to believe that Wilder – a bestselling romance novelist – would agree to write a biography about a Middle Eastern dictator she knows absolutely nothing about (he turns out to be a deranged tyrant).

Never mind the outrageous probability that said dictator, Prince Omar (played without irony by Spiros Focas), would even consider personally traveling halfway across the world to recruit a romance writer as his official biographer. The question viewers want answered is: “Why?” Unfortunately, there is no answer.

Then there’s an attempt at a plot where Eisenberg – playing an oafish, but lovable religious leader – must be killed by the dictator so he can become the ultimate ruler of this fictional Middle Eastern kingdom before Eisenberg can be. Who this “Jewel” is and how he became a powerful religious icon is never explained. In fact, we’re not quite sure what religion we’re even talking about.

But forget all the plot holes and the lapses in reason that riddle the script. Hell, forget about the bloated budget and the unnecessary explosions and camel chases (but most of all forget about Danny DeVito, who delivers one of his worse performances ever).

The real problem with “Jewel” is that Douglas and Turner spend the majority of the movie separated.

Amazing, isn’t it?

But how can that be, one might ask. Wasn’t the success of the first movie the tit-for-tat exchanges between the actors? Wasn’t it the super-charged romantic chemistry that ignited the screen the first time?

Apparently, the producers, director and writers forgot about that.

Like most of the movies we feature in Fantastically Bad Cinema – “The Jewel of the Nile” has to be seen to be believed. Just suspend any notion that you might be watching a real movie and dive into one of the most disappointing busts of the eighties.

Read more of our Fantastically Bad Cinema columns:

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